Today America’s newest fighter pilots joined the most lethal combat air force on the planet. Seven officers from class 13-ABC successfully completed the F-16 Fighting Falcon basic course and will celebrate this momentous accomplishment with family, friends, academic instructors and instructor pilots from the 62nd Fighter Squadron.
Their training at Luke Air Force Base began approximately nine months ago with an intense phase that consisted of 236 hours of academic instruction punctuated by evaluations in the form of 10 exams. In addition to the academics, these students were evaluated during 42 simulator missions totaling 58 hours. Though concentrated in the initial phase of the course, much of the academic instruction and simulator training was interspersed with flying training during the second phase of the B-course.
Following the initial phase, these seven pilots moved from the 56th Training Squadron to the 62nd FS to fulfill what was for many a lifelong dream … that of strapping a mighty Viper to their backs to slip the surly bonds. The joy of this accomplishment was surely short lived as Spike instructors immediately began pushing them to their limits to learn more and execute to a higher standard with every sortie. The proverbial “firehose” became a way of life.
Flight training started with transition phase where they were taught to fly the F-16 in accordance with Air Force Instructions, Federal Aviation Administration guidance and instrument procedures. The initial sorties consisted of instructors flying in the rear cockpit until each student proved ready to fly the F-16 solo.
Following the TR phase, the student pilots were introduced to one versus one dogfighting to learn dynamic maneuvering under high gravity-force while reacting to an adversary maneuvering in close proximity to their aircraft. Once proficient in basic one versus one, they progressed to two versus one, two versus two, and eventually four versus four air combat tactics missions where they executed real world tactics against adversaries with the fights starting with more than 50-mile separation between the blue and red forces.
Upon reaching basic proficiency in all facets of air-to-air F-16 employment, they were immediately challenged with a completely new skill set to master air-to-ground missions. Again, these started with basic sorties where they were instructed on the employment of unguided bombs on the various ranges that make up the Barry M. Goldwater Range complex. The young pilots were then introduced to the munitions they will likely employ in combat soon after departing Luke to include laser-guided bombs and GPS-guided bombs. While most missions consisted of simulated employment, each student had the opportunity to employ live bombs.
Upon demonstrating proficiency with weapons employment, 13-ABC progressed into close air support and then surface attack tactics phase where they flew in forces of four to eight aircraft in missionized scenarios that most closely replicated the types of missions they may be called on to execute someday in combat.
After completing all these phases, class 13-ABC was presented one final challenge in the form of a graduation exercise called Operation Begin Compliance. This exercise consisted of an area of responsibility representative air tasking order and mission planning process that culminated in a complex force-on-force mission consisting of more than 20 blue fighters simultaneously attacking targets defended by simulated surface-to-air missiles and actual adversaries from Luke and Marine Corps Air Station Yuma simulating hostile fighters. In total, members of class 13-ABC completed 62 syllabus-directed missions totaling approximately 100 flight hours in the F-16.
While the effort and perseverance required to graduate was all theirs, class 13-ABC’s graduation would not have been possible without the tremendous joint effort put forth by Team Luke. From the Military Personnel Flight, travel management office and 56th Comptroller Squadron to the 56th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, 56th Training Squadron, 56th Operations Support Squadron and many more … there isn’t a single individual at Luke who belongs to an organization that didn’t somehow contribute to the successful addition of seven motivated new fighter pilots to the U.S. Air Force. In particular, the men and women of the Spike aircraft maintenance unit moved mountains to keep the oldest F-16s in the Air Force flying and able to provide superior training to these young aviators. Along with the amazing maintainers, ABC’s graduation was made possible thanks to the superb instruction provided by the pilots who pushed, cajoled, motivated, challenged and sometimes kicked in the rear … Spike instructor pilots.
The seven young men of class 13-ABC endured a rigorous selection process that began at their commissioning sources, continued through Undergraduate Pilot Training and Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals, and culminated with their graduation from the B-Course and right to call themselves “fighter pilots.” The mental and physical stamina and aptitude displayed throughout this demanding course will serve as the foundation on which these pilots will rely on as they go on to operational combat units throughout the Air Force. While their training at Luke is complete, they will have many more mountains to climb and qualifications to earn. Many of these new fighter pilots will fly combat missions in less time from now than the time it took to complete the B-course. Congratulations 13-ABC. Thank you Team Luke. Spike Aces … 357 and counting!